Living The Dream: Act 3

D16 Call Thursday 19th May

The thing about “show week” is that everything goes out of the window – eating habits, sleeping patterns, household chores….work! If that has proved true in the past then it is doubly so with A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play For The Nation. The work aspect is relatively easily dealt with – we knew we’d be doing this for over a year and that taking holiday would be essential. The household chores can be put into suspended animation for a week. But the eating and the sleeping? They are pretty vital for keeping on top of the game and yet mine seem to have gone to pot. Ah well – you have to suffer for your art.

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So it was that Thursday morning dawned (literally) very early. At least this gave me an opportunity to answer some of the well-wishing messages which had been flooding in over the earlier part of the week. After another quick natter with Bradford Barry (see yesterday) he took himself off for a meet up with Lucy before travelling home. A thoroughly delightful and undemanding house guest – see you in Stratford, Barry. Then it was off to the theatre. Within moments of arriving two more “firsts” for me. First time being asked for an autograph from an audience member who had seen the show the previous night and now had picked up a ticket for another look on the following day (thanks glutton for punishment) and first time for flowers at the stage door (thanks family)

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The auditorium – soon to be filled with 1,000+ people (twice!)

It was a double fun day on Thursday with two performances to give. This meant another relatively early call as the matinee start time was at 1.00. The afternoon performance had a number of school parties in and we had been warned to be on our toes. All I can say is that the children in the audience were impeccably behaved – a credit to their schools and teachers and fully immersed in what was going on. They loved Pyramus and Thisbe – plenty of visual humour there, of course and one particular move I made nearly brought the house down.

In the post show (or pre show – depending how you look at it) lull I had an interview with Holly Williams of The Independent. The questions were pretty much par for the course and I enjoyed talking about the project. At the same time I was being a little wary of preserving my voice. We have actually had little by way of press coverage/reviews on the London leg. The national press (quite rightly) covered the opening in Stratford some weeks ago and local papers as such, have not continued in the capital as they have in other areas of the country. There was a piece in Time Out but this somewhat oddly took the view that the project wasn’t a success because the amateurs were too good – go figure! Other than this there have been a small handful of online blog reviews but nothing of any great significance.

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A view from the wings

The evening performance soon came round and this one really seemed to fly. Sometimes the rapport between audience and actors is so instant that a real bond is formed; everyone is there to have a damn good time and nothing is going to stop them. Al took a serious tumble in the chase sequence but seems not to have done any permanent damage and I got a bit too close to Maria’s eye when I connected with her cheek while I was wrestling the sword from Adam but otherwise it was fun all the way. I felt really comfortable with the Titania scenes – Ayesha boosted my confidence no end by making some very complimentary remarks just before we went on. And as for Pyramus and Thisbe –I think a couple of minutes must have got added on to the running time because of the howls of laughter; I nearly found myself corpsing (unintentionally breaking character by laughing) myself at one point and had to employ the well-worn “biting the inside of the cheeks” methodology to prevent this. What an absolute joy to hear about 1,000 people so enjoying themselves. The curtain calls brought yet more tears to the eye (“I will move storms!”)

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Post show Q & A

Post show there was a Q and A session led by producer Ian Wainwright. Mercy and Lucy from the pro company, Miles from the RSC education department and Erica joined us on stage for half an hour of discussion. There was a particularly moving statement from David Dickson the Head of Eastbury school whose pupils had been on stage at the two performances that day. He spoke eloquently about the effect that the project has had on raising his school’s literacy levels not only for those directly involved but for the other pupils too; truly great to hear. If anyone still doubts the need to take Shakespeare out from behind the desk then there is your answer. And on that heartwarrming note the day was just about over – time to catch up on all that missing sleep!


This week the  production is  at the Barbican in London– click on the image below to reveal full details.

London

Evenings at 7.30 Tuesday 17th – Saturday 21st May

Matinées at 1.00 Thursday May 19th & Saturday May 21st

The Tower Theatre performing with the Royal Shakespeare Company at The Barbican

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Living The Dream: Act 3

Living The Dream: The Prologue

D16 Call Monday 16th May

Walking through the stage door of The Barbican theatre at 10.30 am and signing in for the day is the first action of a desperate man – desperate to get things right that is. The RSC have devoted so much time and support to this project and it has been going so well so far that none of us want to go down in infamy as the one who “mucked up”. So it’s a deep breath and then down into the bowels of the Barbican to the rehearsal room. We’re in the rehearsal room because up above us the stage is being fitted up ready for the performances to start the following day.

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It’s just the Tower Dreamteam in the morning with Erica and Kim. Voice guru Michael is feeling unwell and we hope he can return to the fold really soon; I have a feeling I may be needing his talents ere long. We start, naturally enough, with our opening scene which I could by now recite in my sleep – and possibly do/will. We skip past the second scene as this requires Lucy (Puck) who won’t arrive until later and then move into the short transition scene in Act IV. The work is intense but still highly enjoyable, especially when we discover yet more new things hidden away in the text. A first go at Pyramus and Thisbe comes before a visit to the stage to see the set going up. There are boxes of materials everywhere; it looks like chaos but I’m certain that it is far from it. The visit serves as a very timely reminder of the sheer scale in which we will be working. I actually found sitting in the auditorium and looking back at the stage even more daunting as we contemplated what lay ahead. Meanwhile all of the morning’s events were being filmed by the BBC documentary team and a brief interview session with them finished the morning.

There was actually little time for lunch (well not for me at least) but some fruit on the terrace and some fresh air was very welcome; the Barbican backstage can be an airless place with few windows on the outside world. I had to return below ground fairly swiftly to work with Ayesha on our scenes – cue happy moments of reunion both with her and the other adult fairies. Ayesha as ever kept me on my toes with fresh approaches and new ideas and I was reminded that Bottom has a whole other side to his character (other than the rather loud blustering which passes for acting the rest of the time).

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The three wise men

Next it was time for the schoolchildren’s session; the Beam and Eastbury pupils were intelligent and alert and Kim in particular worked her socks off to get through so much in a short space of time. It was great to see all the enthusiastic, eager faces again and it is clear that they and their teachers have been doing a lot of work on their scenes. Finally we all got to do the Bergomask several times before the youngsters and their chaperones headed off home and we took a meal break. There’s a nice canteen (called the Green Room) for the artists and the Barbican staff which we are being allowed to use. Then there was just time to pay a visit to our allocated dressing rooms – the male contingent of the Tower team are all together in one space while Maria is sharing with Lucy. The dressing rooms are much swisher than many I have seen – individual stations, organised and spacious clothes rails and shoe storage, lockers for ordinary clothes, a shower, a sofa and even our own fridge – very snazzy. The room comes complete with our very own Jen– our dresser who helps us to sort everything out and keep things in good order. It’s all a far cry from the often cramped muddle of am dram world.

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The evening session was spent working on the rehearsal in the forest scene; Lucy joined us for this and added some inventive business with Puck’s mischief making based on what we were doing. We also did the second half of Pyramus and Thisbe. Tiredness was definitely setting in by now and I was having to play in a rather lower key than earlier. The directors were happy to allow this as they knew that when it came to actual performance the adrenaline would kick in and Doctor Theatre would work his magic. A last glance to see how the set was coming along (well, since you ask) and it was off home to get some rest so we could do it all again soon. Tomorrow is even longer and more intense but also contains THE big moment. Crikey!


This week the  production is  at the Barbican in London– click on the image below to reveal full details.

London

Evenings at 7.30 Tuesday 17th – Saturday 21st May

Matinées at 1.00 Thursday May 19th & Saturday May 21st

The Tower Theatre performing with the Royal Shakespeare Company at The Barbican

Living The Dream: The Prologue

A surfeit of the sweetest things

On the face of it I suppose it does seem odd to be celebrating someone’s death rather than their birth and yet that is precisely what has been happening up and down the country over the last few days as the quadricentennial (that’s 400 years to you and me) of William Shakespeare’s demise took place. In essence it’s probably no different from many a modern day memorial service commemorating the life and achievements of the recently departed rather than mourning their departure and in that sense it’s the man’s legacy that is up for celebration. Given the number of celebrity deaths which seems to be plaguing us this year (as I started this post it was announced that Victoria Wood had passed away and the next day Prince had also died) it looks like 2416 might be a busy old year. One thing’s fairly predictable though – a certain WS will still be being feted. There has, of course, been a wealth of commemorative events, performances, walks, talks, exhibitions and media events to choose from in the last week.

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“The flowers of odious savours…” On the set of The One Show

Many of the key ones were listed on last Tuesday night’s The One Show on BBC1. Four of the team had actually been invited to be part of the audience for the live show. Although seeing the programme being made was interesting (the studio is really really tiny) as an advertising opportunity for our particular production it was very much a “blink and you’ve missed it” affair. C’est la vie!

RWIn any case I had already made my plans. Saturday started with a listen to Rufus Wainwright’s new album Take All My Loves based on nine of Shakespeare’s sonnets. This was a curious hybrid of wistful melancholy, opera and poetry reading (William Shatner, anyone?) but it made a fitting start to the day accompanied by a Spanish omelette – well, it was the 400th anniversary of Cervantes’s death as well.

Then it was off to Canterbury to see the latest incarnation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play For The Nation. I wanted to see this version for a number of reasons:

  • it was the Bard’s big day so what was more appropriate than to see one of his plays?
  • the Canterbury Players are our nearest “neighbours” in this enterprise so I felt it would be appropriate to support their turn
  • I needed a timely reminder of the production itself as we gear up for our slot at the Barbican in less than a month
  • I had yet to see it acted on a proscenium arch stage as we will be doing (my previous visit was to see it on the thrust stage in Stratford) and it was my first time seeing Ayesha playing Titania throughout (on the previous occasion understudy Laura had done a very good job in her stead)
  • this version had one of the two female Bottoms – hats off to Lisa Nightingale for blazing a trail – and I was intrigued to see what differences this might throw up

 

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Canterbury Mechanicals     Photo by Topher McGrillis RSC

So it was for the second time quite recently that I found myself at the Marlowe theatre. The auditorium was quite packed and I was once again mindful of just how big the place is. There were clearly a number of the school children’s’ family members in attendance and a definite buzz of excitement was evident as the start drew near. Tarek Merchant (MD on the show) walked on and we were off. The show looks to be in good shape. It was clear that the pros had been refining and improving their scenes during the course of the run and the production has become a lot slicker as a result. The amateur Mechanicals picked up the baton from their predecessors and ran well with it, scoring a palpable hit with the audience, especially in the Pyramus and Thisbe scene. The Canterbury group are equally balanced between male and female performers with, as already mentioned a female Bottom. Did that make any difference? Essentially no, the character works just as well either way it seems to me. However, the sexy chanteuse singing the ousel cock song and the “dying swan” delivered as part of Pyramus and Thisbe are not things I shall be attempting myself. In the interval I got to have an interesting chat with Sally (Canterbury Players’ director) and she was able to fill me in on how the final rehearsals worked for them and was able to give me some tips on what to expect from the big week. The time at the theatre fairly raced by and after the curtain calls Lucy Ellinson (Puck) reappeared to encourage us to give one more round of applause for the man without whom…This was long and hearty and, as is the way in the modern age, filmed on a smart phone to be uploaded to Twitter.

Next it was round to the stage door for some slightly luvviefied greetings, renewal of acquaintanceships and cries of “not long now” from Assistant Director Kim. Also there was Graham Fewell (Castle Players’ Snug) making good on his promise to go to all the different productions round the country. He’s on track so far despite still being on crutches after an accident had left him unable to perform in his particular stint. I can only imagine how devastated he must have felt to miss out but at least he has the encore at Stratford to look forward to.

Then it was back on the high speed train to London (still can’t believe it’s less than an hour to Canterbury these days). Here I opted for a taster session on the Globe Complete Walk. I’d initially planned to do the Walk in one fell swoop on the Sunday but having ‘done the math’ (37 screens at ten minutes a time plus time spent walking between each – you work it out) a few days earlier I had realised that this might prove tricky. Besides, the London Marathon was also happening on the Sunday and scheduled to finish around Westminster – just the point where the walk starts. Thus I tackled the first seven screens a day earlier than planned. The first stop was the grounds of St Thomas’s hospital and a scene from Two Gentlemen of Verona (great). One of the first faces I saw on screen was Peter Hamilton Dyer who plays Egeus in the RSC Dream – apparently he has done a goodly amount of work at The Globe and I was to see his face several more times over the next 24 hours. From here it was straight along the South Bank until, just shy of Waterloo Bridge, I watched Romeo and Juliet (not so great, I’m afraid).

A little later than planned it was home for dinner (a meat pie since you ask….slightly unfortunate in that I’d just been watching Titus Andronicus; and if that remark doesn’t make any sense then you need to look up the plot of the play!) It was also time for the televised broadcast of the RSC’s Shakespeare Live! from Stratford upon Avon. This was a very feast of acting talent – including our old mate Mr Cumberbatch (ahem!) – and was a timely reminder of why the rest of the world often looks to the UK for classy thespianism.

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The ‘B’ Team give it a go!

The only bum note for me was that involving Prince Charles appearing in a sketch about rehearsing that line from Hamlet. Sorry, but to me it just smacked too much of trying to get one up on the Queen in the Olympics opening ceremony. That aside a great show and quite heavy on The Dream. With Judi Dench as Titania, David Suchet as Oberon, David Tennant as Puck and Al Murray as Bottom, I think the gauntlet has been well and truly thrown down.

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Isn’t that something?

On Sunday it was back to Waterloo where the first thing that confronted me when the tube train door opened was a giant poster of Lucy/Puck and Chu/Oberon advertising the Barbican run and which gave Tower Theatre equal billing with the RSC. Marvellous! (Apparently there are a total of 59 of these posters at 37 tube stations and a further 55 at 49 mainline stations including Gatwick and Luton airports – oh to have that sort of advertising budget). Picking up where I had left off the evening before, I spent the day ranging from Richard III outside the BFI to The Tempest in the shadow (literally, as night fell) of Tower Bridge. Highlights were Kenneth Cranham’s King Lear, an hilarious Omid Djalili in The Comedy of Errors, Toby Jones as Falstaff (someone should really cast him as this character very very soon), Timon of Athens with Simon Russell Beale and of course A Midsummer Night’s Dream where as well as enjoying the film I was able to do some surreptitious leafleting. It was a very long (and unfortunately bitterly cold) day. That said it was also an extremely rewarding event and it was particularly refreshing to see the crowds that were being drawn to watch, perhaps after having seen the Marathon which was proceeding on the north bank of the Thames as the Walk was happening on the south. In all, then, a veritable feast for the eyes and ears and bumping into the Dream’s movement director, Sian (at Twelfth Night) was a nice little bonus.

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My only criticism is that the event was a bit too big for it to be done at leisure (took me just over eight hours in all) and it is a pity that it could only be mounted over one weekend. If the screenings were followed in strict order (which is what I did) the Complete Walk showed the chronological development of Shakespeare’s skill as a writer and the enormous legacy he has left. I believe plans are afoot to put all the films online; if that happens give yourself a treat and watch them. On a personal level the walk also served as a timely reminder that there are still seven of his plays I have yet to see on stage and that I must set about correcting that shortfall (Titus Andronicus, King John, Troilus and Cressida, Timon of Athens, Coriolanus, Henry VIII and Cymbeline if you’re interested).

That, then, was my Shakespeare weekender; oh, plus reading Jonathan Bate’s The Genius of Shakespeare, adding some thoughts to #ShakespeareSunday, writing a Shakespeare Day blog post, discovering a lost Shakespeare manuscript in the attic, doing a Shakespeare crossword and watching a BBC 4 documentary about Shakespeare on film – NB: I may have made one of those up* . And, of course, the celebrations are far from over yet. There’s plenty of good stuff coming up on the BBC, exhibitions and concerts continuing right round the country, books, articles, blogs and reports to be read and (and I’m not sure, but I may have already mentioned this) a certain little production of  A Midsummer Night’s Dream that seems to be creating a stir wherever it goes.

*It was the one about discovering the lost manuscript in the attic – I don’t actually have an attic!


This week the  production is  at the Theatre Royal in Norwich– click on the image below to reveal full details.

Norwich


 

A surfeit of the sweetest things

The poet’s eye; the poet’s pen

One of the less obvious and, surely, unintended side effects of being involved with A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play For The Nation has been the deleterious effect it has had on my general reading programme. There simply hasn’t been the time lately to get stuck into a good book what with intensive rehearsals, word learning, background research and other distractions to cope with (tough life, isn’t it?) With a period of relative calm from February through to April and a recent holiday in the offing I felt it was high time to rectify the shortfall. However, as there was still some background/spin-off reading I wanted to do, that was where I decided to concentrate my efforts.

DobsonFirst cab off the rank was Shakespeare and Amateur Performance: A Cultural History by Michael Dobson. This proved to be an entertaining and fascinating look at how amateur productions of Shakespeare have developed over the centuries. Starting with the private country house theatricals of the landed gentry, Dobson goes on to investigate the rise of the amateur company as we know it today and also looks at Shakespeare being performed overseas by the colonising members of the diplomatic service and those in the armed forces. Particularly intriguing was the section on Shakespeare in POW camps in World War Two where a popular yet potentially tricky choice was The Merchant of Venice. As might be expected The Dream loomed large in the scheme of things, perhaps most intriguingly in an unlikely production by the inmates of Dartmoor prison – themes of escape and transformation perhaps the draw here. Dobson sees any line between amateur and professional productions as consistently blurred so I wonder what he will make of our present theatrical endeavour. Perhaps there is a new revised edition with an extra chapter just begging to be written.

KiplingNext, I turned my attention to Puck of Pook’s Hill by Rudyard Kipling chosen, of course, because of the title character. Two children pass the time by playacting scenes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream; Dan shows his affinity with Bottom by not only undertaking this character but also playing Puck and all the fairies while his younger sister has to make do with just being Titania. So intense are they in their performance that they inadvertently conjure up the “real” Puck described as “a small, brown, broad-shouldered, pointy-eared person with a snub nose, slanting blue eyes and a grin that ran right across his freckled face” (Lucy Ellinson, please take note). Puck then acts as an MC introducing quasi-historical figures who tell the children tales of what might best be described as Olde Worlde Englande. Well, what a tedious little book this turned out to be. By turns patronising and agonisingly tedious (with the occasional gobbet of casual Kipling racism thrown in for good measure) it was devoid of interest, excitement and even much literary merit. Considering it’s supposed to have been written for children all I can say is they must have made them differently in 1906; I certainly couldn’t see today’s readers enduring it for long. The most interesting bit was the section in which Puck explains that the fairies have all left England as a direct result of Henry VIII’s reformation and the religious intolerance which followed – yes that is as good as it got!

PlutarchDelving back even further in time I then turned to Lives of the Greeks and Romans by Plutarch. This outlined the life of Theseus, mythical ruler of Athens, cousin of Hercules and, as it turns out, general love rat. While this is hinted at by Shakespeare it seems that he really was a love ’em and leave ’em type of guy. Ariadne, Phaedra and, of course, Hippolyta all fell for his charms and then suffered a degree of disappointment. The reader is left in no doubt though that he was a fair and just ruler and some of this comes across in Shakespeare’s play. Plutarch’s style was a little heavy to say the least and I couldn’t face up to all the other notable figures covered in the book so I actually only read the Theseus section – well I was on holiday!

AtwoodThree of Theseus’ lines from The Dream provide one of the epigraphs for Margaret Atwood‘s latest, The Heart Goes Last :
Lovers and madmen hath such seething brains,  
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends …..and this, as it turned out, was rather apt (I suppose given it’s an epigraph, it would be!) This book was definitely my pick of the bunch. It sees Atwood in futuristic dystopian mode (cf The Handmaid’s Tale and her more recent MaddAdam trilogy) and is centred around a young couple and their move to a community where everyone spends a month in prison -Positron – followed by a month living an ordinary life in a so called ideal community – Consilience. There are, though, sinister forces at work. The central couple share their existence with another pair, their Alternates, with whom they gradually become obsessed and a complicated love quadrangle ensues reminiscent of the Lovers in The Dream. As their lives fragment and spiral out of control the reader is taken on an action packed adventure which mingles satire, sci fi adventure and surreal entertainment. The Dream references add another layer of interest and include an ending where a group of workers get to perform an entertainment, there’s a multiple wedding and everyone is (seemingly) paired off with the right person. This is achieved partly through the use of a new brain procedure whereby the person undergoing the operation falls madly in love with the first thing it sees upon awakening (now where have I heard that before?) As for Shakespeare’s play itself, in Atwood’s future society it has become a soft porn show in Las Vegas called A Midsummer Night’s Scream starring the supposedly alluring Tits Tania – now there’s an angle that the RSC strangely decided to avoid!

PratchettIf Atwood’s novel doesn’t quite treat the Bard with due reverence then Terry Pratchett‘s Lords and Ladies goes even further. As ever it is set on the Discworld but the references to our own planet and culture loom large. In this one the kingdom of Lancre is about to be invaded by elves and fairies (here, indisputably the baddies) and only the witches can stop them.  As Midsummer arrives there is also to be a royal wedding and the Entertainment is to be provided by blacksmith Jason Ogg and the rest of his artisan cronies ( a weaver called Tailor, a tailor called Carpenter, a tinker called Tinker and so forth). They are, of course, comically inept and may even have to resort to the infamous Stick and Bucket dance to see them through. Pratchett’s humour may be an acquired taste but the underpinning Dream references made this great fun to reread.

Harris Love In Idleness by Amanda Harris transposes the play’s action from Ancient Greece to modern day Tuscany where Theo and Polly Noble are renting a villa for themselves and assorted singleton friends as well as the three children Tania, Bron and Robin. All the Dream tropes are present and correct – confused lovers, a dark wood in which folk get lost, a “magic” potion, fairies (sort of). The one aspect missing is the Mechanicals; latecomer to the villa Guy Weaver, a celebrity TV gardener with a braying laugh and tufts of hair on his ears, seems to be very much an afterthought and only there to service what I found a somewhat ludicrous (and certainly unprepared for) denouement. I suppose this book would fall into the category of “chick lit” – a term I don’t particularly care for. That said it’s not a book I’d have picked up or persevered with if not for the Dream connections; fortunately it was a quick read.

There was one final text on my list, an early play by Henrik Ibsen called Sancthansnatten (translates as St John’s Eve), which apparently owes a huge debt to Shakespeare’s Dream. However, investigation revealed that Ibsen himself excluded it from his collected works and that no translation into English even exists. In the interests of dedication I suppose I could have tried learning Norwegian but, with just over a month to go before the performances I think it’s about time I got back to the set text. Now how does it go again? “When my cue comes, call me and I will answer..…..”


This week the production will be at the Alhambra Theatre in Bradford – click on the image below to reveal full details.Bradford

The poet’s eye; the poet’s pen

We two have shared

I know I have said it before but the level of intensity on Week 5 of rehearsals for A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play For The Nation rose sharply again. This was the penultimate week of the mainstream rehearsals and the final week that the professional company was due to be working in London so it was definitely time for a final push. To help with this there were link ups to both Norwich and Nottingham in order to share good practice and trade ideas. It is a wonder that there are any new ideas left to have but that, of course, is part of the joy of Shakespeare. There is always something new to discover; even if you haven’t discovered it yourself it’s likely that someone else has. Sharing has been absolutely at the heart of this project throughout – professionals with amateurs, amateurs with each other, regional theatres with local communities and so on.

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Erica directs The Bear Pit while Tower watches

On Wednesday evening it was a real treat to welcome our colleagues from the Bear Pit (one of the two teams from Stratford upon Avon) to Clapham and share our discoveries. The Saturday hubs meant that I had had plenty of shared Bottom time. However, this was the first occasion that the rest of the Tower Dreamteam had had the opportunity to work with their counterparts from another part of the country. Although there are similarities between the two teams there are some notable differences: their Quince is male and ours female, the Starvelings are the other way round and there could not be a greater difference in the physical appearance of our Snugs/Lions. It all serves to show how diverse this production is going to be as it tours the country. One aspect that will be the same, of course, is the professional cast and Lucy who is playing Puck was also on hand that evening to help us try out different ways of approaching the scene where the mechanicals rehearse Pyramus and Thisbe. We were able to demonstrate some intricate business with an almanac which had finally been resolved the evening before and a complicated exit was shown to us by the Bear Pitters. We will still need to perfect this but have a little bit more time than they do – their first performances are less than two weeks off (good luck, guys!). It was great fun working for the evening with such a talented bunch of like-minded people and we are looking forward to seeing the final results when we go up to Stratford and watch the Bear Pit company on stage in a few weeks’ time.

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The run through with special guest Sue Downing

Friday was a big day for our team and, as it transpired a very long one. Firstly, I had a rehearsal call to go and work with Ayesha on the Titania/Bottom scenes. This was my first attempt at these; time had been at such a premium on the Saturday sessions that I had never actually got to my feet though I had spent quite a few hours observing my colleagues and how the scenes were to be structured. I had also spent a good deal of time thinking things through and having some preliminary practice with David and Karen (our director and rehearsal Titania). That said I was relieved to run the scenes through – especially given what was to come that afternoon. This was the time scheduled for the first full run through of the play and Tower had been invited to participate. There was a clear sense of expectation in the room as the professional actors arrived along with the entire creative team and the rest of the Tower players. Our one absentee was Maria who simply could not take time out of work. Erica had arranged that Sue Downing (Quince from the Kidderminster Nonentities company) who was visiting London, would substitute. Erica gathered us all together to offer some final words of encouragement, we all sang a rousing “Happy Birthday” to Sue and then we were off.

Of course there were great swathes of the production which we had never had the opportunity to watch (I had never seen Oberon in action for instance) and so there were some truly remarkable and surprising moments to appreciate. Our scenes were full of nervous energy as the adrenaline flowed; Sue’s expertise meant she fitted into our staging with little difficulty. My own scenes with Ayesha also went smoothly although I have to admit I did get Peaseblossom and Cobweb mixed up at one stage and I certainly didn’t get through the Bergomask dance unscathed. The rest of the team was also on fine form and both Adam and Al drew applause from the gathered audience which must have run to fifty people. I should mention that among these was the near-legendary former RSC Voice Director Cicely Berry now in her ninth decade; what an honour! Three hours later it was all over; I felt drained but elated but I think we acquitted ourselves well and it has shown us what things we still need to work on. Even that wasn’t quite the end – that evening we all had costume fittings with designer Tom Piper and the wardrobe team. It is great to see what we will be wearing and it provided a calming coda to what had been a tremendous day and one that I feel thoroughly privileged to have experienced.

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A trio of Bottoms with a side order of Mustardseed and Titania

And so to Saturday and the last of the Bottom hubs. This was attended by five of us in London linking up to our three Midlands colleagues with the opportunity for the rest of the country to tune in online as usual. The morning concentrated on the Titania/Bottom scenes and refining the detail of their two close encounters. At one stage there was quite an intense debate about the underlying sexuality of the scenes and whether Bottom’s transformation into an ass had included the acquisition of “attributes” other than a pair of ears. Nothing amiss with that of course, if anything I was a bit surprised that the topic had not arisen before. However, it was perhaps a little ironic that this was the exact time a journalist from Radio 4’s Front Row put in an appearance to investigate our rehearsal – she must have thought we were all a bit obsessed! Over the lunchbreak the same journalist interviewed us for a forthcoming feature; this time the carnal aspects of the play were carefully avoided.

When we got back to the rehearsal room a huge transition had taken place. While we had been away any remaining furniture, props and other rehearsal paraphernalia had been packed away in a van and whisked off to Stratford – even the walls had been stripped of all the notes, photographs, drawings and lists which had previously been there. Thus it was that the final afternoon’s work was carried out in a somewhat bare space and in an atmosphere of slightly Chekovian melancholy that this aspect of the work was drawing to a close. The time was spent investigating Bottom’s monologue in Act 4 and, as ever, several versions were tried; it has given me several ideas for how I might approach this key moment. And then suddenly that was it, the production’s time in London was up (well, until the actual play reaches the capital in May) and everything has moved to Stratford for final rehearsals, previews and the opening night. Although a key chapter in the production process has drawn to a close, a new and even more exciting chapter is just about to begin; best wishes to the two Stratford teams as they take us down the home straight towards opening night.

 

We two have shared